An Artist’s Touch: Pierre and Anne de Villeméjane’s Scardale Home
Sculptor and painter Anne de Villeméjane’s vision for her family’s home leaned towards a contemporary vibe, executed flawlessly with a serene aesthetic and the couple’s collection of various objets d’art.
Built in the mid 1960s, the home of Pierre and Anne de Villeméjane has the single-level layout of a Japanese pavilion. It sits on one and a half acres, much of it wooded, and, from the street, the brown shingle structure all but blends into the landscape. Large stands of mature bamboo—a surprise in Scarsdale—are situated along tall ash and tulip trees. The home had only two owners prior. The French couple, who moved here in 2009 from Boston with their three children, proceeded to give the house a sleek, contemporary re-do from stem to stern, adding a master suite, opening rooms, and re-staining some of the wood floors a metro-chic gray.
The spine of the home, so to speak, is a long, vaulted corridor that runs the length of the main house. It is paved with bricks recycled from a building at Yale University, giving it the feel of an outdoor courtyard. At one end of the corridor is a room that Anne, a painter and sculptor, has made her home studio. At the opposite end, through an arched doorway, is a glass door that opens onto a patio.
This central, unifying space sold them on the house. “It was all about the corridor and the outside views, so that you live in your garden,” Anne says over croissants and strong coffee in her sleek white kitchen. She installed a mirror on the studio door, to reflect the hallway when closed, “so that it would not really end.”
The de Villeméjanes traffic in objets d’art. Pierre is CEO of WWRD Holdings Limited, which owns Royal Albert, Waterford, Wedgwood, and Royal Doulton, iconic china and crystal brands that his firm bought out of bankruptcy. He is in the process of “dusting them off” with a 21st-century twist, and they now turn a profit. Their taste is—how do you say?—incroyable. The white walls of their serene home provide a neutral gallery for art, hers and that of others, and objects collected in their travels. It has the look of a finely curated gallery, minimal yet warm, with family pieces and contemporary furniture from places like BoConcept and B&B Italia, as well as pieces designed to her specifications. Color is confined to accents: the rust-red glass top of a custom-made dining table, the orange cushions on two low Moroccan chairs, the vibrant hues in one of Anne’s photographs, a time-lapse image of dancers. A crystal-studded console table from the new Waterford Interiors collection sits in the corridor, near her studio. Anne, who has a passion for lighting (especially Italian), delights in turning it on, especially at night, when it makes the space shimmer.
Did she use a decorator?
“Oh, no, no,” the lovely blonde murmurs in her velvety accent. “The French, we always do it ourselves.”
But when it came to re-imagining their rather traditional garden, she needed help: “It’s not my thing, the outside. I have no clue about planting.”
She and Pierre turned to Robert Welsch, the Tarrytown-based owner of Westover Landscape Design. Robert is himself is an artist of sorts—he paints with plants—and he took his cues from Anne’s clean aesthetic.
“There’s this concept that landscape designers and architects have, called genus loci,” he explains. “It’s the spirit of the place. If you can quiet yourself and come onto a property, you’re getting information from the space. And, if you listen, the space tells you what it wants to be.”
The de Villeméjane property told him this: Keep it simple but sophisticated, soothing, with clean lines and a limited palette. Anne told him that, too. “I didn’t want color all over the place,” she says. “When I paint, I never use more than three colors; it’s kind of a rule for me.” Texture was key as well. Whether she is painting or sculpting, she applies various media: images ripped from magazines, metal mesh, even hardware items like washers (“My dream place is Home Depot—I can spend hours there”).
Robert listened. His approved design “was about quiet statements, quiet colors,” he says. “We concentrated on green on green. We concentrated on whites. I took a lot of cues from the artwork in the house, from their own color palette, to create an outdoor space that reflected their sensibilities. There’s no fussy topiary, no crimped and pruned boxwoods. There are not a lot of hot colors. It’s loose and flowing and elegant, and that’s achieved by a limited plant palette and a very tight color story.”
The courtyard garden, situated off a bricked entry breezeway that leads to the front door, is a case in point. A lovely Fullmoon Maple is anchored by Japanese forest grass, which has lime-green variegated leaves, and Heuchera "Plum Puddings," a shade plant with purple ruffled leaves. “When it’s in bloom, the Japanese forest grass looks like a river, so we get that feeling of water,” Robert says. “It became the motif throughout the garden, so that it is almost like a string of pearls that ties everything together elegantly. It has a lovely, flowing look, and it looks great, no matter the time of year.”
There are visual treats at every turn. A Japanese Snowbell tree, which bursts into droopy white blossoms in spring, stands outside Anne’s studio. Robert added more bamboo as screens, including the garden’s bright spot, a seating area off the master bedroom with two mango-colored chairs. “Those chairs would be wrong anywhere else in the garden, but it’s a quiet, tucked-away space. Even when there’s snow, the garden is speaking, with the evergreen bamboo and this bright pop of color of the chairs.”
In the backyard, his crew sculpted the land to accommodate a children’s play area and a new pool. Robert kept the plantings minimal: limelight hydrangeas, white roses, Japanese Temple trees as “the repeating evergreen.” He achieves impact through numbers. “We said, 'Let’s stick with a very clean, simple palette and have impact. If we do introduce a plant, let’s be bold and have 50 of it, 75 of it.'”
Anne shies away from botanical talk. “Don’t ask me too many details about the plants,” she demurs. “Pierre took on the project. Because I did all the house, he said, ‘The garden will be mine.’”
Not long after the de Villeméjanes moved into the Scarsdale house, Anne heard a knock on the door. It was the woman who built the home decades earlier. In her late 80s, she was visiting from Miami, and had stopped by on a whim. She said, ‘I want to see what’s happening with my house.’”
It turned out that the woman had built it to house her own art collection. “I told her, ‘I’m a sculptor,' and she was really happy. It had come back to what it was intended to be.”
The same could be said of Anne herself. She studied art as a girl in Paris, but lost it to the pull of career and family. She and Pierre met while both were marketing executives with L`Oréal in Paris. They moved to London for work; Anne was head of marketing for Bourjois, the sister brand to Chanel, while Pierre segued into mergers and acquisitions. He was offered a job in Boston and, in 1999, they moved there with their two children, which soon became three.
Unable to work for lack of a green card, Anne returned to an “original passion”: drawing. She bought some paint and canvases, and her work was so good that in 2001, friends encouraged her to exhibit at Artexpo New York in Manhattan. There she met famed Italian artist Lorenzo Cascio, who suggested she start sculpting. She began to study in earnest, learning welding, foundry work, and casting at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Harvard University, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Fast-forward to 2013: She has showed at SCOPE New York, the prestigious contemporary art fair, and has shows lined up from Beirut to the Hamptons, and is a permanent artist at the Mark Hachen Gallery in Paris.
Anne’s sculptures look delicate but convey strength. They are attenuated female figures, toreadors, couples embracing—both small and very large, cast in bronze, cement, even crystal, from the same Hungarian supplier used by Waterford. “They are human figures, but not of the real world,” she explains. They have a dream feeling about them, always very quiet and peaceful, with an inner strength.”
Her trademark sculpture is Fragile. At 400 pounds, the larger-than-life bronze doesn’t look fragile, but she fits the common theme: a woman in contemplation, sitting on a wooden bench, elbows on knees, her chin cupped in her hands. Anne had cast a small one in Boston, “then it kept crossing my mind that I should do it lifesize.” Fragile was cast in a foundry in New York City and assembled from 11 molds. She took a year to complete, and afterward, Anne decided to bring her home, the finishing touch in her new landscape.
She and Robert decided Fragile should rest on a patio outside the glass door at the end of the central corridor. Anne thinks of her as “a subdued, quiet presence, the life force of the house.” Earlier this year, Fragile spent a few weeks away from home, at SCOPE and other exhibits. “My kids were like, ‘We are missing her.’” When Fragile came home from her travels, she went back to her spot on the patio. Anne lights her at night. When Anne closes her studio door at the far end of the corridor, Fragile is reflected in the mirror so that there seem to be two of her, the life force doubled.
A frequent contributor to Westchester Home, Dana White is an avid, if only marginally successful, gardener.